I can’t believe it’s already been a week since I attended my very first conference–the Colorado Gold hosted by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers! It’s been a busy week now that I’ve officially jumped on the publishing wheel with two requests from agents for partial manuscripts! Since I’ve been home, I’ve been working on finishing up the final edits so I can send them out this week. Then, holding my breath!
It all started last Friday, September 20th, when I kissed my baby girls goodbye and set off for Denver, leaving the youngest for the first time. It really does get easier, but that didn’t stop me from missing them as soon as I pulled away. It’s so infrequent that I’m all by myself, it took me the whole drive to get used to not sticking my hand behind me to pass off drinks and books and snacks. But what an exciting feeling to have an entire weekend ahead of me to focus on myself and what I love.
Arriving was a little overwhelming. I later found out there were 370 conference attendees, and on top of that, hundreds of Red Cross members helping with the flood, and several other events going on at the same time. My usual population: 4. Conference weekend population: Close to 1,000. It was a bit of culture shock but everyone was so friendly and welcoming to the newbie with the First Time Attendee ribbon around her neck. I attended three workshops that day–one about interviewing characters, one about Twitter and Facebook, and then an agent panel. It was so enlightening to get an insider peek at the industry!
Now before I left for the conference, I promised myself I wouldn’t waste any opportunity to learn or put myself out there. Luckily, I’m not shy (I know, you’re shocked!). So after the agent panel, I approached one I had an eye on–my very first agent experience ever–and gave her my elevator pitch. I stumbled all over myself but she was kind and asked questions and then requested 30 pages! A great way to start the weekend! I’m so thankful agents know how nervous and awkward we writers are when it comes to talking to them. The funny part, though, is that seeing them walking around “in the wild” did make the whole situation less intimidating–even the prospect of querying. Afterward, we had a buffet dinner with the RMFW Writer of the Year, Linda Joffe Hull, who gave a funny and inspiring speech about how each of us has our own path to publishing. Hers sure was a roller coaster ride! I think that’s my favorite thing in the world to listen to–writers just talking about being writers. It’s always comforting to know my conflicts aren’t just mine, and that somehow, we all get through them. Still, I went to bed that night feeling a bit overwhelmed by the reality of how tough this business is and hoped I was doing the right thing by fighting for it.
The next morning, however I felt the night before, I woke up excited. Even taking into account the insanely early hour. I knew I had my pitch as well as the workshops I was most looking forward to ahead of me. I started the day attending a panel put on by a hysterical trio–Mario Acevedo, Jeanne Stein and Warren Hammond. They gave a fun workshop on the elements of a great book with a serious reminder that that is, of course, the most important part. Immediately afterward, I went to my pitch appointment–a ten minute block of time with an agent all to myself, and what I’d been waiting for for months. I was nervous leading up to it, but as soon as she smiled at me and reassured me I had nothing to worry about, I relaxed and talked to her about my book. She had great questions that lead me in the right direction and taught me which parts of my book I should play up and which ones to tone down in a pitch. I felt like I got exactly the amount of time I needed to truly cover the nuances of my book and myself with her guidance. And she asked for 50 pages! I was over the moon, and still am.
After that, the conference took a definite turn for me. All my doubts dissipated, not as much because I got the request, but because talking about my book and having someone enjoy hearing the story reminded me why I was there. I went to another workshop with the trio and learned a fantastic technique using scene and sequel. I am obsessed with learning about craft, and I’ve read so much it’s often difficult to find something I haven’t heard many times over, so this was thrilling to me and I’ve already been applying it during my revisions.
By this time, I was starting to recognize and get to know people, which made it more fun. After lunch, I attended a workshop called An Agent Reads the Slush Pile with Kristin Nelson, who is pretty much a rockstar to me and sitting in the same room with her for two hours only confirmed that. The education they offered was an inside look as two agents read the first pages of submitted manuscripts in the same way they would if they were reading the slush pile in their own office. Then they told us at what point they would stop reading and why. The story wasn’t moving along fast enough, they weren’t introduced to the main character soon enough, etc., etc. So fascinating! Even more fascinating was that everyone who attended agreed. Of course, it’s harder to apply that to our own work when we’re sitting at home, praying somebody will read far enough in to love our story. But now that I know exactly what agents are looking for, it’s easier to think like an agent before I decide to hit the send button. And that night’s keynote speaker was the famous historical author, Margaret George!
The final day was bittersweet. I was tired and ready to get home to my family, but also not ready to say goodbye. I’d made some good friends and luckily, after attending Heather Webb‘s workshop about online critique groups–who, by the way, I’ve followed online for years at Writer Unboxed and finally got to meet!–I brought some of them home with me. A couple of women and I formed an online critique group and have been talking every day. The best part of attending a conference is definitely the connections you make. The final keynote speaker was Ronald Malfi, and he gave a hilarious but honest reminder that all business aside, whether we ever publish a(nother) book or not, we’d still be writing, so we’d better get to it.
Overall, going to a conference is definitely something I would do again. I’ve heard once you attend one, you’ll be addicted and that’s definitely true for me. Before I left, I posted on Facebook, “I’m beyond ready for the next step. I really, really hope this weekend will be that.” Who knows how these partials will turn out, but either way, I do feel like I’ve taken my commitment to a writing career to the next level and in that sense, it was everything I hoped for.